Compact on Norms of Behavior for Commercial Space Operations Unveiled by Hague Institute

Compact on Norms of Behavior for Commercial Space Operations Unveiled by Hague Institute

The Hague Institute for Global Justice unveiled a compact on norms of behavior for commercial space operations last night in Washington, D.C. and presented it to the United Nations today. The “Washington Compact” is a set of non-binding principles for responsible and sustainable commercial space operations. They are somewhat akin to the Artemis Accords for governments, but these are for companies and civil society. The document, signed by 53 individuals, organizations and companies so far, was submitted to the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Lady Sohair Salam, President, Hague Institute for Global Justice.

Lady Sohair Salam, President of the Institute, established the Off-World Approach in 2021 to formulate solutions that ensure the future of space is peaceful, inclusive and equitable.

Joining her as co-chair of the Off-World Approach is Kenneth Hodgkins, who retired from the State Department in 2020 after more than a dozen years as Director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology and U.S. representative to the U.N. space committee or UNCOPUOS.

The Netherlands-based Institute is an independent, non-profit organization that “aims to shape discourse and bridge gaps between research, policy and practice on global issues at the critical intersection of peace, security and justice.”

For the past two years, Salam and Hodgkins have worked with an advisory group of experts in international space law and policy and representatives of the commercial sector to develop the Washington Compact. Many were in attendance at the Metropolitan Club in Washington last night where it was publicly released.

“For centuries, humanity has looked to the stars with wonder and aspiration, and today, we stand at the forefront of a new age of space discovery. A time where nations come together, not as competitors, but as partners, in a shared mission to advance our knowledge and understanding of the universe,” Salam said.  Hodgkins added: “Civil society must lead in shaping a new global framework among governments, industry and the scientific community that is flexible, predictable, transparent and inclusive.”

The 12-page Washington Compact on Norms of Behavior for Commercial Space Operations affirms the importance of compliance with the four U.N. space treaties to which most space-faring countries are signatory (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, 1968 Astronaut Rescue and Return Agreement, 1972 Liability Convention, and 1975 Registration Convention) and establishes a set of principles that “apply to activities conducted by civil society in outer space including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies.”

The principles cover —

  • interoperability
  • the human element (such as rendering assistance to each other’s astronauts, creating a space culture to inspire and educate youth, and reaffirming the value of space for economic growth, societal well-being and the improvement of life globally, particularly for developing countries)
  • cooperation between civil society and states parties to the outer space treaties on implementation and compliance matters, and
  • space law

The Washington Compact is reminiscent of the Artemis Accords, which were developed by an original group of eight countries led by the United States to guide sustainable exploration and use of the Moon. Twenty-three countries have signed the Accords and more are expected, but they apply only to governments, not the private sector.

Mike Gold was a key figure in drafting the Artemis Accords in 2020 when he was at NASA with then-Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Now with Redwire, he also was closely involved in drafting the Washington Compact. Last night he said “Establishing norms of behavior is critical for the safe, successful, and sustainable development of space. I’m thrilled that the Hague Institute is tackling this vital topic to help ensure a peaceful and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy.”

Scott Pace, who was Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council when the Accords were written and also is working with the Institute, added:  “The space domain has become globalized and democratized. As such, developing norms of behavior for safe and responsible space operations requires the participation of multiple stakeholders, not just States. Governance of the space domain requires a bottom-up approach and cannot be imposed top down.”

Pace is now back at George Washington University and Director of the Space Policy Institute there. He is one of 10 individuals who signed the Washington Compact along with former NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden, former Romanian cosmonaut and former Chair of UNCOPUOS Dumitru Prunariu, former Director of the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs (which administers UNCOPUOS) and former Director General of Malaysia’s National Space Agency Mazlan Othman, and former Director General of the French space agency CNES Gérard Brachet.

Source: Hague Institute for Global Justice

Companies and organizations signing the Washington Compact span the globe and include Spaceflight Launch Services, Simera Group, Ad Astra Rocket Company, Dhruva Space, the Space Foundation, Beyond Earth Institute, Association of Space Explorers, European Space Policy Institute, and the Regional Center for Space Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Source: Hague Institute for Global Justice

The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS is currently meeting in Vienna, Austria and the Institute submitted the Washington Compact there today in support of the Space2030 Agenda.

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